Mbappe must clear crossroads: Neil Humphreys
World Cup 2018 sensation faces career obstacles for club and country
The confused folks at Paris Saint-Germain are remaking a Disney classic that no one wants to see. The Lad and the Tramp.
Oh, and there's also a goat, because every Disney yarn needs a goat.
It's the unromantic tale about a dazzling prodigy and an established superstar bickering over the arrival of the greatest footballer of all time.
Basically, Kylian Mbappe called Neymar a tramp. The wunderkind expressed his frustration at the Brazilian's apparent inability to pass in their side's recent 2-0 win over Montpellier.
On Tuesday, Mbappe came clean. He did call Neymar a clochard (tramp), brushing off the incident as a heat of the moment gesture, but one couldn't help but wonder how it'd come to this.
Mbappe looks lost.
The boy that battered Argentina in the 2018 World Cup almost seems like a trick of the mind. But it really did happen. Mbappe announced his arrival with breathtaking authority that rivalled Pele back in 1958.
The French teenager was an extraordinary mix of speed and steel, like the shape-shifting T-1000. The enfant terrible just kept on coming.
There was something poetic about Mbappe's startling performance coming on the same day that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo bowed out of the World Cup. The throne was his for the taking.
But he hasn't taken it. He's still playing second fiddle to others, not only on the world stage, but also within his club dressing room.
PSG's recent 2-0 victory over Manchester City was an engrossing spectacle, with Mbappe contributing to the opener, but he was essentially warming up the crowd for the main event - the second coming of Messi.
The Argentinian scored, spectacularly, but was aided in no small part by a fractured formation of 4-3-0-3 that essentially accommodated the golden trio by stuffing the side with industrious midfielders.
Three years ago, Mbappe was the Boy Wonder. Today, he's playing Robin to Messi's Batman, unable to shake off the shadow quite as effortlessly as he once shook off Argentinian defenders.
Of course, Mbappe has picked up trophies. But three league titles with PSG must come with caveats, no matter how much the wealthy Parisian side bleats otherwise, along with his four goals in 11 appearances in all competitions this season.
Being the biggest fish in the Ligue 1 pool undoubtedly shielded him from the harsher glare that comes with playing in superior leagues. But his development has stalled in a less challenging environment.
Mbappe hasn't been helped either by being part of a golden generation of Les Bleus that might be creeping towards the end of their cycle.
France were unusually subdued at Euro 2020 and Mbappe bore the brunt of the intense criticism that followed.
He missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Switzerland, but France were collectively underwhelming throughout the tournament.
And yet, the wrath of an angry nation had an obvious target - Mbappe's supposed ego. Social media savaged him. He was called a monkey and much worse.
The finest French footballer in a generation questioned his future with France. That colossal kid at the World Cup, so inventive, so fearless, seems a long time ago now. For both club and country, Mbappe finds himself at a crossroads.
Tomorrow morning (Singapore time), he'll lead the line for France in their Nations League semi-final against Belgium.
But the prospect of winning a second-tier trophy is arguably less important than Mbappe reasserting his credentials as the natural heir to Messi.
Cynical marketing and the sport-washing aspirations of PSG's owners suggest that he'll never usurp the Argentinian at his current club, which will only speed up his departure to Real Madrid.
But the French forward can dominate on the international stage. He's still only 22. In terms of pace, strength, touch, balance and youth, he stands alone. He would do well to remember that, even if his current employers do not.
Mbappe soared to the summit in 2018. All he's got to do now is stay there.